Despite dwindling resources, many older adult Israelis exhibited impressive resiliennce during the initial period of the Israel-Hamas war

March 31, 2024

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Despite dwindling resources, many older adult Israelis exhibited impressive resiliennce during the initial period of the Israel-Hamas war

Following the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, Israeli researchers initiated a study measuring acute stress and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms among Israelis between November-December 2023, shedding light on the impact of the conflict on mental health across generations.  

The study utilized several approaches to reach a large and diverse group of participants. The results, just published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, revealed striking differences between adults aged 20-59 and older adults aged 60-87.

During the initial week of the conflict, young adults reported significantly higher levels of acute stress symptoms, with 24.8% experiencing distress. In the subsequent weeks, the prevalence of probable PTSD among this group soared to 42.8%. In contrast, older adults exhibited lower rates of acute stress (3.7%) during the first week, with 13.7% reporting probable PTSD in the following weeks.

What the researchers say: “This study provides valuable insights into how different age groups respond to traumatic events,” remarked the lead author. “Despite the challenges posed by the Israel-Hamas war, older adults demonstrated remarkable resilience compared to their younger counterparts.”

The research delved into two hypotheses to explain these variations: the vulnerability hypothesis, suggesting older adults’ susceptibility to trauma-induced psychopathology due to physical frailty and reduced social support, and the inoculation hypothesis, proposing older adults’ resilience owing to life experience and effective coping mechanisms.

The findings largely support the inoculation hypothesis, the researchers said. “Older adults exhibited impressive resilience during the tumultuous period of the Israel-Hamas conflict. This means that despite experiencing declining physical, cognitive and social resources, older adults may still have other resources that help them cope with traumatic events. Some of these resources include life experience, wisdom, emotional regulation capabilities, and the use of strategies to compensate for lost abilities while optimizing preserved ones. Additionally, older adults may have adapted to the current war by drawing on their past experiences with warfare, including significant events like the Yom Kippur War.”

The study underscores the importance of recognizing and harnessing the strengths of older adults in times of crisis.

“It’s important to recognize the strength and resilience of older adults, especially those who have experienced trauma. We should encourage and empower them to cope with present challenges by focusing on their capabilities and resources,” the lead author said. “Adopting a strength-based perspective can help care providers impart belief in older adults’ ability to overcome crisis, but it’s also important to bear in mind that older adults may have different reactions to stress, so an individual approach is crucial.”

So, what? The study reinforces the findings of a quite different study published recently and noted in last week’s TR. In that study nations were graded on their happiness scale. Even in the happiest countries (Finland came out on top) there were profound differences between the generations. The over 60s were the happiest overall and those under 30 the least happy.

We’re therefore looking at a world-wide resilience phenomenon. In the past it has been assumed that younger adults were happier and more resilient than their older peers. It appears that either this assumption was quite wrong or that there has been a fundamental and simultaneous change in multiple societies.

Stay tuned.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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